Our next fall task after the garlic was planted was to finish converting one of the horse stalls in the barn into a chicken coop for some laying hens.
We had just finished layering sand, shredded leaves and tiny wood chips in the bottom of the stall (the “deep litter” method of chicken keeping), when a friend who runs a farm animal rescue received an emergency call from Philadelphia.
Chickens are illegal in Philadelphia and these four 8-month old pullets had been “dimed out” to the authorities. The owners were heartbroken — they had cared for the chickens since they were chicks and wanted them to have a good home. So, they drove from Philadelphia to Barto and reluctantly gave them up.
At one time, anyone could keep chickens. People like my PA Dutch grandfather kept chickens on the Iowa farm where he grew up and in the town of Mount Pleasant, PA that he moved to after he married my grandmother.
Unfortunately, he told me, “a wave of so-called ‘civic pride’ swept the towns and they took pride in that they ‘weren’t rural.’ And the biggest way they could prove they ‘weren’t rural’ was to ban chickens in the town.”
Supposedly, the Mt. Pleasant Town Fathers made a personal visit to my grandfather to let him know (supposedly with great glee) that his chickens would soon be banned and he would have to get rid of them. “It was the stupidest law ever,” my grandfather said.
The Town Fathers may have gotten rid of my grandfather’s chickens, but to their great consternation, he refused to take down his chicken coop. As a child, when we were working in his garden, he’d point to the chicken coop and say “One of these days, people are going to realize how good it is to have chickens around. And they will let chickens in town again. And on that very day, I will fill my coop with chickens.”
Unfortunately, that day never came for him — when he died the mid-1970s, his chicken coop was still standing, waiting for the chickens the Town Fathers wouldn’t let him have. I’ve always loved the urban chicken movement on his behalf.
But I did take his words to heart. Whenever we looked at properties for our future farm, we never made an offer until I looked up the zoning codes for the municipality on PA Ecode and made sure I would be allowed to have chickens. (We let several properties go, one as large as 4 acres, because chickens were not allowed.)
After a week in quarantine, our friend brought the chickens here. The best of the four is this Barred Rock who is friendly and easy to handle:
We also have a white Leghorn, who will probably always be flighty.
We also have two Rhode Island Reds, which are in the back left (smaller one) and front right (larger one)
Here’s the best I could get with all four of them together. They had only been here an hour or so — it will be easier to take photos once they are used to their new coop.
Luke, our English Shepherd, seems very excited about the chickens. He likes going to their stall and watching them peck and coo. Once they are used to their coop, he’ll start learning to herd them so that we can use them around the farm to eat insects and weed seeds in season.
I’m excited too — and hopefully, my grandfather is happy that I finally have chickens, like any gardener or farmer should